Tony’s off to the States in more civilised times.
There are comic-books, like the Doctor Who range, that are essentially budget-blown two-dimensional versions of TV shows. There are comic-books, like Death Sentence, that could work as movies, but which would probably be lessened by the translation.
Then there are comic-books that beg you, or rather seduce you, into imagining them on a big screen. Mycroft is one of those. It’s been special from issue #1, the combination of the characterisation brought to the young Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the lusciously rich art from Raymond Obstfeld and Josh Cassara, enlivened by colourist to the gods Luis Guerrero and Simon Bowland. It’s one of those comic-book perfect storms of meticulous storytelling talent, art and colourwork that make you feel like you’re experiencing something that either is already a moving image, or if it isn’t, that absolutely should be.
Where does issue #3 find us? The search for some blueprints to a doomsday device leads Mycroft to the United States of America, where a whole new class of mystery and nightmare await him. There’s solid characterisation throughout the issue, meaning it’s not only a Mycroft Holmes story, but engages you with the twists, turns and clockwork revolutions of both its plot and its subsidiary characters. There’s some great opening banter with agent Worthington, one of Her Imperial Majesty’s finest, and Abdul-Jabbar makes us invest in their relationship as one would in that of the Junior Holmes and his doctor-friend. That’s rather a cruel trick in this issue, but nevertheless indicates a hallmark of quality – people are going to be real people throughout this storyline, whether or not we subjectively judge them ‘important enough’ to invest our time and energy in.
That same depth of characterisation is evident in the next handful of people Mycroft meets too – including a highly kickass deus ex machina, a helpless young maiden, and an ageing aunt, on whom Mycroft performs the art of what we know as CPR. There’s a clue revealed, albeit we as long-time readers of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries might reasonably be expected to make more of it than a young Mycroft does, and we duly do. We see Mycroft turning on the charm of which he is so eminently capable on the helpless young maiden in a quest to find the meaning of the clue, while with his own ‘Watson,’ the deus ex machina we mentioned, he is refreshingly if brutally honest. As characters, they’re a good pairing, and the relationship between them is sparky enough to sustain our interest.
There’s a flashback sequence in this issue too, which is worth at least some of the admission price into this comic-book. The young Holmes boys, out hunting as children, Sherlock the obsessive, pursuing his goal beyond the requirements of food and without the sentimentality required to care about the ‘family’ of the stag he’s hunting. Mycroft, despite his prodigious brain, is shown in their youth to be the more whimsical of the two, and at the same time the more pragmatic, the less dogmatic. It’s an important reminder of the differences between the boys and the men, because the feel of the story could easily lull a nonchalant reader into thinking they’re reading a comic-book version of a Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes story, for all Mycroft’s still youthful good looks make him seem closer to the Cumberbatch re-invention than the classic Rathbone or Brett. This is the point of course, he’s actually like none of them, but a thing entirely of his own nature.
The issue ends with two cliff-hangers piled one on top of the other. First, we see what looks like – but honestly, probably isn’t - our arch-villain, explaining that the attack which Mycroft and his deus best within pages of opening this issue was mainly staged to put him off the alert when the next, more sustained assault comes. There are details seeded here of the plot of issue #4, and the nature of all the attacks so far is clarified for us. As indeed is the nature of the villain, who has a somewhat gruesome taste in needlework and a vicious croquet-swing. He’s a juxtaposition of the genteel and the brutal that reaches all the way back to ‘Professor’ James Moriarty, and stretches forward through both real life and popular fiction in our culture – he has a feel of Don Corleone about him, arranging murders over wine on his daughter’s wedding day, then returning to the party.
The issue ends with a rather more immediate action-packer, as Mycroft Holmes discovers he’s by no means the only living legend to have an interest in the blueprints, and that his deus ex machina has conveniently – if in a very unorthodox manner – arranged a meeting of legends. We have no particular fears for Mycroft’s safety as we head into issue #4, but our appetites are well and truly whetted in terms of wondering how the two legends, one quintessentially English, one distinctly American, will work together. We suspect There Will Be Banter.
Storywise, Abdul-Jabbar moves his tale on swiftly in this issue, having sidestepped the tedious necessity of an ocean voyage by the simple expedient of having it happen (practically in real time) between issues, and delivering us clues to cling to, and plenty of action – the attack on Holmes not long after he disembarks in America is punchy, fast-paced and satisfying, while still delivering its quirky Victorian science-fiction feel. The ramping up towards the meeting of legends cliff-hanger is more relaxed, allowing for the strands of the storytelling to mingle naturally in our minds, the villain having his moment and being allowed to make his mark in it. What you end up with is an issue that feel balanced, while delivering atmosphere, characterisation and action in well-proportioned degrees, leaving you satisfied on the one hand and eager for more on the other.
So – not much of an achievement then!
Artistically, Obstfeld and Cassara deliver that sense of both action, place, time and above all tone – the Victorian mixture of gentility and grimness, with added dimensions as the action translates to the America of the day. The introduction of Mycroft’s deus in particular is a great example of that, a single full-page image showing a great deal of what we need to know about them in terms of pose, posture, background and the way in which they arrive in his life. There’s a similar act of characterisation and backstory through a single page of artwork on the final page too, introducing the American of whom it can be safely assumed Mycroft will have heard, but whom he will have had no particular eagerness to encounter.
It would be repeating ourselves unduly to draw your attention to the spectacular use of light and colour in this issue, because we say something similar every time, and indeed on every occasion on which we review something in which Luis Guerrero has had a hand. Guerrero is a master craftsman of comic-book colourwork, and here, the exact shades used give the scenes and the story overall its moods, its pace, its sense of the landscape against which the story is set – from the deep watery blues of the harbour, through the sun-tinged ochres of the hunting flashback, to the watercolour liquid gold of the villain’s genteel mansion and the purple-tinged Western sunset of Holmes’ cliff-hanger, Guerrero builds life into Obstfeld and Cassara’s inkwork – a vivification shown plainly by the bonus black and white art that comes with this issue, allowing you to look back at the version you’ve experienced and see how important an art colourwork is in the creation of vivid modern comic-books.
In the reviews of the first two issues of this series, we’ve confidently predicted it will be the non-Who Titan comic-book of the year, at least here at WarpedFactor. Three issues in, there’s absolutely no reason to back off from that claim. Go and get some Mycroft into your life – your brain and your eyeballs can thank us later.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk